FSLN’s Grandeur and Decadence

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega during one of his rallies. Photo Credit: Confidencial (a Nicaraguan newspaper founded by the FSLN’s former newspaper director)

The Sandinista National Liberation Front or El Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) is a political and social movement, founded in 1962 by Carlos Fonseca. In 1979, FSLN efforts overthrew former President Anastasio Somoza, ending his 46-year-old dictatorship. The FSLN military action, partly inspired by the Cuban Revolution, held the conviction that the Communist Party of Nicaragua’s approach to “papelitos y reunioncitas[1] (scraps of paper and little meetings) to challenge Somoza would bear no result. The Sandinistas would then rule Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, then again in 2007 with the re-election[2] of Daniel Ortega, who had previously served as Nicaragua’s President from 1985 to 1990.

Though the 1979 revolution was successful, the FSLN would inherit a failing economy, a debt estimated at 1.6 billion USD, leaving 50,000 Nicaraguans dead, 120,000 exiles, and 600,000 unhoused.[3] However, the mission to revive the economic sector through foreign debt negotiation and soliciting financial aid through new channels yielded attractive levels of aid and debt restructuring terms. Furthermore, the Agrarian Reform Law[4] played a role in boosting the country’s economic performance. The government gradually allocated insufficiently exploited land, making state companies and cooperative farms the primary beneficiaries.

U.S. Meddling

From 1979 to 1980, President Carter maintained a conservative diplomatic approach to dealing with Nicaragua. However, the United States’ posture towards Nicaragua changed under Reagan. As Reagan took office in January 1981, he suspended all aid to Nicaragua and began funding the rebellious Contras against the FSLN as part of his anti-communist agenda. In the Iran-Contra Affair political scandal, officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the subject of a U.S. arms embargo, to use the arms sale proceeds to fund the Contras. Furthermore, the C.I.A. armed, clothed, fed, and supervised the Contras. The C.I.A. taught the Contras the “Assassination Manual”[5] to commit, classify, and justify murder, with detailed assassination methods through accidents, drugs, and edged weapons. However, U.S. meddling proved futile. The FSLN emerged dented but victorious, subverting U.S. intrusions by cementing its legitimacy as a democracy in Latin America.

Ortega’s Rule

Ortega’s ascension into power in 1985 legitimized Sandinistas’ resolve, as the movement had won against the hegemon that failed at implementing a sponsored dictatorship and C.I.A-led aggressive meddling. Sandinistas had ceased to believe they could trust the United States, thus paving the way for Ortega’s rule. However, Ortega’s rule morphed from an initially honorable mission of helping the people into a dictatorship, no better than the one he helped dismantle some 42 years ago. Ortega seems to understand the opposition’s growing pressure for him to step down as simply an extension of the nightmares the FSLN endured during the Reagan Administration.

Ortega’s skepticism has become a paranoia, and his delusional perspective of the political landscape means that every opposition member is out to get him and his legacy. Ortega acted on his paranoia during the November 7, 2021, elections.[6] Ortega secured a fourth term as President of Nicaragua through mass arrests of dissenting presidential candidates, assassinations, and imprisonment without trial. The result has been long coming, with the FSLN controlling the legislature, the judiciary, and much of the media. U.S. President Joe Biden called the election a sham, but how do we proceed from here? We tend to assimilate matters in light of future positive change, fundamentally as an ethical duty to uphold right over wrong. We are also prone to envisage idealistic environments from an optimistic perspective. However, Nicaragua does not seem to be destined to this fate. With the international community rattled in differences over commitments on climate change action and unbinding agreements, the U.S.’ historical flops in Latin America and its current lack of interest in the region, and the almost inexistent domestic opposition, Nicaragüenses should brace themselves for a long and dark journey with Ortega behind the wheel.


[1] Matilde, Zimmermann “Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution”, Chapter 4, page 9. Duke University Press 2000.

[2] Yubelka, Mendoza and Natalie, Kitroeff. “Nicaragua Descends Into Autocratic Rule as Ortega Crushes Dissent”. The New York Times. Nov. 7th, 2021.

[3] “Nicaragua: A Case Study”, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, ed. Tim Merrill, page 39

[4] Michel, Merlet “Nicaragua: Fragility and limits of agrarian reforms”, November 2002.

[5] A Study of Assassination Transcription (https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/ciaguat2.html).

[6] “Nicaragua: Announcement of Ortega’s re-election augurs a terrible new cycle for human rights”, Amnesty International, November 8th, 2021.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.